The Utah Senate will have a new look in 1997, and at least one noticeable change: Democratic Sen. Eldon Money of Spanish Fork will not be back in the Legislature for the first time in 22 years.
Republicans went into Election Day with 19 of the 29 Senate seats, and when the dust had settled, they held 20 seats.The victory by political newcomer Robert Muhlestein in Utah County was somewhat of surprise, although it does not change the political makeup of the Senate much because Money typically voted with Republicans. Muhlestein won by less than 100 votes in final but unofficial tallies.
If the Utah County victory caught Republican leaders by surprise, it was a race in Salt Lake County that had them muttering about the one that got away. Republicans again failed to unseat Senate Minority Leader Scott Howell, D-Granite, who has now defeated three prominent Republicans in his six-year political career.
Democrats narrowly failed in their bid to unseat first-term Sen. Robert Montgomery, R-North Ogden. It was the one Senate race that Democrats thought they had their best chance to whittle away at the Republican majority. But House Assistant Minority Whip Grant Protzman, D-North Ogden, fell just 367 votes short out of more than 23,000 votes cast.
Howell's defeat of former Rep. Robert Warnick in the District 8 race was a bitter pill to Republicans still chagrinned over the Democrat's uncanny ability to win.
"I think the voters believe in me. They know what I stand for and they know I reflect their values," Howell said. "I put people before party and politics."
In the Senate District 6 race, former House Majority Whip Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, easily defeated former PTA president Mary Hammond in a race that Republicans feared they could lose.
Waddoups attributed the margin of victory to a last-minute negative ad campaign by his opponent that focused on Waddoups' campaign contributions and his role in passing a bill making it easier for Utahns to get concealed weapons permits.
"It backfired on her," Wad-doups said. "But she worked hard and gave us one of the toughest races we have ever had. She kept pace, she walked the district, she matched us dollar-for-dollar. The difference was people were turned off by the negative campaigning."
Elsewhere, the District 2 seat, held for the past 24 years by retiring Sen. Rex Black, D-Salt Lake, stayed in Democratic hands, with Rep. Pete Suazo, D-Salt Lake, beating retired military officer James A. Waters. Suazo now becomes the only ethnic minority represented in the Senate.
Another new face is that of Rep. R. Mont Evans, R-Riverton, who defeated incumbent Sen. Brent Richards, R-Riverton, in the Republican county convention and then moved easily to the Senate after his opponent withdrew from the District 5 race.
Former Congressman Howard C. Nielson will also take a seat in the Senate. Nielson, whose political experience includes eight years in the Utah House and the same in Congress, all but secured the seat after defeating a GOP rival in the primary election. He faced only token opposition in the general election. The District 16 seat is being vacated by Sen. Charles Stewart, R-Provo. In District 29, Lorin V. Jones, a Republican from Veyo, Washington County, beat Independent American Party candidate Roger Peterson of St. George. Jones will succeed one-term Sen. David Watson, R-St. George.
Three state senators ran unopposed.
Senate President Lane Beattie, R-West Bountiful, won handily over Lyndon LaRouche Democrat D. Michael Bingham, whose own party tried to remove him from the ballot in south Davis County's District 23.
Sen. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, won over Republican Julie Davies of Hurricane and Libertarian Will Marshall of Big Water in District 27, which includes most of southern and southeastern Utah.
Year Republicans Democrats
1990 19 10
1992 18 11
1993 19 10
1996 20 9
STATE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Year Republicans Democrats
1990 44 31
1992 49 26
1994 55 20
1996 55 20